Gadgets – TechCrunch Josh Constine

The worst thing about Spectacles is how closely tied they are to Snapchat. The proprietary circular photo and video format looks great inside Snapchat where you can tip your phone around while always staying full screen, but it gets reduced to a small circle with a big white border when you export it to your phone for sharing elsewhere.

Luckily, Snapchat has started beta testing new export formats for Spectacles through the beta version of its app. This lets you choose a black border instead of a white one, but importantly, also a horizontal 16:9 rectangular format that would fit well on YouTube and other traditional video players. The test was first spotted by Eric Johnson, and, when asked, a Snapchat spokesperson told TechCrunch “I can confirm we’re testing it, yes.”

Allowing Spectacles to be more compatible with other services could make the v2 of its $150 photo and video-recording sunglasses much more convenient and popular. I actually ran into the Snapchat Spectacles team this weekend at the FORM Arcosanti music festival in Arizona where they were testing the new Specs and looking for ideas for their next camera. I suggested open sourcing the circular format or partnering so other apps could show it natively with the swivel effect, and Snap declined to comment about that. But now it looks like they’re embracing compatibility by just letting you ditch the proprietary format.

Breaking away from purely vertical or circular formats is also a bit of a coup for Snapchat, which has touted vertical as the media orientation of the future as that’s how we hold our phones. Many other apps, including Facebook’s Snapchat clones, adopted this idea. But with Snapchat’s growth slipping to its lowest rate ever, it may need to think about new ways to gain exposure elsewhere.

Seeing Spectacles content on other apps without ugly borders could draw attention back to Snapchat, or at least help Spectacles sell better than v1, which only sold 220,000 pairs and had to write-off hundreds of thousands more that were gathering dust in warehouses. While it makes sense why Snap might have wanted to keep the best Spectacles content viewing experience on its own app, without user growth, that’s proven a software limitation for what’s supposed to be a camera company.

Gadgets – TechCrunch Romain Dillet

French premium cable television company Canal+ is slowly moving away from building its own set top boxes. As Next INpact spotted, you can now subscribe to Canal+ and get an Apple TV 4K with Canal+’s myCanal app already preloaded.

Canal+ has been around for decades and was the first premium TV channel in France. Over the years, the company started distributing all sorts of premium channels through satellite, cable and partnerships with internet service providers.

While you had to get your own Canal+ set top box to receive Canal+ 15 years ago, the company’s own box has slowly become irrelevant. As all the main French internet service providers give you a set top box, Canal+ has partnered with them to offer multiple add-ons to receive Canal+’s content.

When Canal+ announced its most recent device, Canal+ already said that you’d get a better experience with the myCanal app on the Apple TV.

That’s why Canal+ is betting everything on over-the-top distribution. If you don’t subscribe to Canal+ through your ISP, you can get an Apple TV 4K for €6 per month in addition to your TV package. If your internet connection isn’t fast enough or you’d rather use satellite TV, you can still get a Canal+ set top box.

But the writing is on the wall. Most people will soon watch Canal+ through myCanal on Android TV, tvOS, iOS, Android, a Samsung TV and desktop computers.

In France, Molotov and myCanal have been some of the top performing apps for tvOS and Android TV. This partnership could boost the Apple TV in France.

Gadgets – TechCrunch Romain Dillet

How did you find Microsoft Build yesterday? We don’t really have time for your answer because Google I/O is already here! Google is kicking off its annual developer conference today. As usual, there will be a consumer keynote with major new products in the morning, and a developer-centric keynote in the afternoon.

The conference starts at 10 AM Pacific Time (1 PM on the East Cost, 6 PM in London, 7 PM in Paris) and you can watch the live stream right here on this page. The developer keynote will be at 12:45 PM Pacific Time.

Rumor has it that Google is about to share more details about Android P, the next major release of its Android platform. But you can also expect some Google Assistant and Google Home news, some virtual reality news and maybe even some Wear OS news. We have a team on the ground ready to cover the event, so don’t forget to read TechCrunch to get our take on today’s news.

Gadgets – TechCrunch John Biggs

Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel are building a tic-tac-toe game to help patients with their rehabilitation exercises. The game is played on a grid of boxes and includes “embodied” and non-embodied play. Embodied play means a robotic arm will grab and place a marker – in this case a small cup – and non-embodied play includes bright lights that light up to mark the computer’s spot.

The system uses a Kinova arm and cups. The cups are part of the rehabilitation process and help users learn to grasp and manipulate objects after an illness or accident.

“Playing Tic Tac Toe with a set of cups (instead of X’s and O’s) is one example of a game that can help rehabilitate an upper limb,” said Dr. Shelly Levy-Tzedek. “A person can pick up and place many cups while enjoying a game and improving their performance of a daily task.”

Interestingly the speed of the robot had an effect on the users. A slower robot would make users perform more slowly while a faster robot sped up the game. This could be used to modify the game for individual patients and individual needs. Because the robot never gets tired the rehabilitation staff can pay attention to the minute movements of a patient, catering the speed and type of play as appropriate for their specific rehabilitation regimens.

The research paper appeared in Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience.

Gadgets – TechCrunch Josh Constine

Photos, not just video. No yellow ring alerting people to the camera. Underwater-capable. Classier colors with lighter lenses. Prescription options. Faster syncing. And a much slimmer frame and charging case. Snapchat fixed the biggest pain points of its Spectacles camera sunglasses with V2, which launch today for $150. The company only sold 220,000 pairs of V1, with their limited functionality, tricky exports, and goofy hues. But V2 is stylish, convenient, and useful enough to keep handy. They’re not revolutionary. They’re a wearable camera for everybody. 

You can check out our snazzy hands-on demo video below:

The new Spectacles go on sale today in the US, Canada, UK, and France, then in 13 more European countries on May 3rd. The $150 V2s are $20 more than the old version and only available on Snap’s app and site — no Amazon, pop-up stores or vending SnapBots. And V1 owners will get a firmware update that lets them take photos.

After two days of use, I think Spectacles V2 cross the threshold from clumsy novelty to creative tool accessible to the mainstream. And amidst user growth struggles, that’s what Snap needs right now. 

V1 Was To Get People Comfortable

What Snap doesn’t need is a privacy scandal, and that risk is the tradeoff it’s making with its more discrete Spectacles design. They still display a little circle of white lights while recording, but with the permanent yellow ring on the corner removed, you might not notice there’s a camera lens there. That could make people a little nervous and creeped out.

But the company’s VP of hardware Mark Randall tells me he thinks the true purpose of V1 was to get people comfortable wearing and being recorded by a face computer. It certainly wasn’t a consumer success, with less than half of owners using them after the first month. He said he feels pretty good about shipping 220,000 pairs. Yet Snapchat was roundly mocked for taking a $40 million write-off after making hundreds of thousands too many. Randall attributes that to having fragmented sales channels, which Snap is fixing by only selling V2 itself so it can better predict demand.

Snap did learn that users wanted to take photos, get them in less flashy coral colors, bring Spectacles to the beach, pair them quicker with better resolution exports, and hear less wind noise when moving. And most importantly, they wanted something they didn’t feel weird wearing. So Randall’s team essentially scrapped the yellow warning ring, style, architecture, chipset, and electronics to build a better V2 from the ground up. The result rises high above its predecessor.

[gallery columns="4" type="slideshow" ids="1628988,1628989,1628987,1628990"]

The Specs Of Spectacles V2

Snapchat isn’t making a spectacle out of the Spectacles V2 launch. There’s no hidden vending machines with cryptic clues leading to long lines. They’re openly for sale today in Snap’s four top markets, with IE, BE, NL, SE, NO, DK, FI, DE, AT, CH, PL, ES, and IT coming next week. This might make sure everyone who wants them can have them before they inevitably stop being trendy and will have to rely on their true value.

As soon as you slide them out of their tennis ball tube package, you’ll notice a higher build quality in Spectacles V2. The yellow case is about 1/3 smaller, so you could squeeze it in some pants pockets or easily throw it in a jacket or purse. The old version basically required a backpack. The charging port has also been moved to the side so it doesn’t fall out so easily. Even with the better hardware, Spectacles are supposed to have enough battery and memory to record 10 videos a day for a week on a normal charge, plus carry four extra charges in the case.

The Spectacles themselves feel sleeker and less like chunky plastic. They come in onyx black, ruby red, and sapphire blue and you can choose between a more mirrored or natural lens color too. Users in the US can order them with prescription lenses through a partnership with Lensabl. Those colors are a lot more mature than the childish coral pink and teal of V1. More transparent lenses make them easier to use in lower light, so you won’t be restricted to just the sunniest days. I could even get by inside to some degree, whereas I was bumping into things indoors with V1.

The box holding the hardware on the hinges is now much smaller, making them lighter and shallower overall. An extra microphone helps Spectacles reduce wind noise and balance out conversations so the wearer doesn’t sound way louder.

It’s easy to long-press for a photo or tap for 10-second video, with extra taps extending the clip up to 30 seconds. Either fires up the light ring to let people know you’re recording, but this is much more subtle than the permanent yellow ring that was there as well on V1. You can only add stickers and drawings after you shoot and export your Spectacles Snaps, so that means there’s no adding augmented reality face filters or dancing hot dogs to what you see first-person.

Syncing goes much faster with Spectacles V2

Snap Inc actually reduced the field of vision for Spectacles from 115 to 105 degrees to cut off some of the fish-eye warping that happened to the edges of clips shot on V1. Videos now record in 1216 x 1216 pixels, while photos are 1642 x 1642. What’s fun is that Spectacles can record under water. Randall doesn’t recommend diving to 200 feet with them, but jumping in the pool or getting caught in the rain will be no problem. In fact it can make for some pretty trippy visuals. Cheddar’s Alex Heath nailed most of these features in a scoop about V2 last month.

Syncing to your phone now just requires Bluetooth and a seven-second press of the shutter button, rather than a shoddy QR code scan. Exports always happens in HD over Specs’ internal Wi-Fi now, and transfers go four times quicker than the old process that required you to sync standard definition (low quality) versions of videos first, then pick your favorites, then download them in HD. Randall says that led lots of people to accidentally or impatiently settle for SD content, which made Spectacles’ capture resolution seem much lower than its potential.

Annoyingly, you can only sync your Spectacles to Snapchat Memories first before exporting videos individually or as one big Story to your camera roll. That makes it a pain to share them elsewhere. If Snap wants to be a hardware giant, it can’t just build accompaniments to its own app. It needs to catch the attention of all kinds of photographers.

What really matters, though, is the how the incremental improvements all add up to something much more livable.

Keeping Snapchat Spectacular

Snapchat may have finally found a way to make Spectacles carryable and wearable enough that people use them as their default sunglasses. That could lead to way more content being produced from Spectacles, which in turn could make Snapchat more interesting at a time when it’s desperate to differentiate from Instagram.

Randall says Snap is just starting to reach out to professional creators, who could prove to people how fun Spectacles could be. Snap neglected them last time around and ended up with few pieces of flagship Spectacles content. This time, though, Snap will focus on showing off what Spectacles can shoot rather than just how they look on your face. It’s even going to run its own in-app ads promoting Spectacles that will let you swipe up to buy them instantly.

Snap Inc calls itself a camera company, but beyond software, that wasn’t really true until now. It could be a half-decade before we have AR goggles for the masses, and Snap can’t wait around for that. V2 is a solid step forward, and Randall says Snap is committed to a long road of hardware releases.

Getting tons of its cash-strapped teens to buy the gadget may prove difficult again, but I at least expect V2s won’t end up dying alone in a drawer as often. These glasses aren’t going to turn around Snapchat’s business, which lost $443 million last quarter. And they probably won’t win over any Instagram loyalists. But Spectacles V2 could rekindle the interest of lapsed users while producing unique perspectives to entertain those who never left. Snap may have broken the Google Glass curse.

Gadgets – TechCrunch Sarah Perez

Amazon this morning is introducing “Alexa Blueprints,” a new way for any Alexa owner to create their own customized Alexa skills or responses, without needing to know how to code. The idea is to allow Alexa owners to create their own voice apps, like a trivia game or bedtime stories, or teach Alexa to respond to questions with answers they design – like “Who’s the best mom in the world?,” for example.

You could also create a skill that includes helpful information for the babysitter, which could be triggered by the command, “Alexa, open My Sitter,” Amazon suggests.

“Alexa Skill Blueprints is an entirely new way for you to teach Alexa personalized skills just for you and your family,” explained Steve Rabuchin, Vice President, Amazon Alexa, in a statement about the launch. “You don’t need experience building skills or coding to get started—my family created our own jokes skill in a matter of minutes, and it’s been a blast to interact with Alexa in a totally new and personal way.”

To build your own skill or custom Alexa response, users will visit the website blueprints.amazon.com and select a template.

At launch, there are over 20 templates across categories like Fun & Games, At Home, Storyteller, and Learning & Knowledge.

The templates are designed so you can just fill in the bits and pieces that make them personalized to your needs. You won’t need to go through a series of complicated steps, and no technical knowledge is required. The templates are even pre-filled and work as is, if you just want to try them out before making your own.

After you’ve filled in your own content, you name it and publish with a click. This makes the skill or response available to all Alexa-enabled devices associated with your own Amazon account. But it’s not available to the public or the Alexa Skills Store.

Families with Echo devices, in particular, seem to be a heavy focus for Alexa Blueprints. Kids have readily taken to Alexa, and today there are nearly 500 public Alexa skills built for kids alone. Families also often have private jokes and bedtime rituals where Alexa could come in – offering to “tell a Dad joke” or “start Anna’s story,” for instance. Plus, Alexa is designed as a home companion – controlling smart devices, playing music, setting timers, and offering information like news and weather, among other things.

But families aren’t the only ones would could take advantage of Alexa Blueprints. College students could use the flash cards custom skill when studying, while a group of friends or roommates could design their own trivia games. And Airbnb owners could set up a skill for their houseguests.

After you’ve created the custom skill, it will be available in the Skills You’ve Made webpage on the Blueprints site. You’ll also be able to enable, disable and delete your skills.

The feature could give Amazon an edge in selling its Echo speakers to consumers, as it’s now the only platform offering this level of customization – Apple’s HomePod is really designed for music lovers, and doesn’t support third-party apps. Google Home also doesn’t offer this type of customization.

All three are competing to be the voice assistant people use in their home, but Alexa so far is leading by a wide margin – it still has roughly 70 percent of the smart speaker market.

Alexa Blueprints are available today in the U.S. only.

The full list of Alexa Blueprints available at launch is below:

At Home

  • Custom Q&A: Customize responses to your questions
  • Houseguest: Make your guests feel at home with quick access to important info
  • Babysitter: Help your sitter find things, remember steps and get important info
  • Pet Sitter: Help your pet sitter care for your favorite animal

Fun & Games

  • Family Jokes: Create a list of your favorite jokes for when you need a laugh
  • Trivia: Create your own multiple choice trivia game on any topic
  • Inspirations: Curate a list of your favorite inspirational quotes
  • Family Trivia: Play together and brush up on family history
  • Bachelorette Party: Play to find out how well the bride’s friends know her
  • Birthday Trivia: Play to see who knows the birthday girl or boy best
  • Burns: Roast your friends and family with lighthearted burns
  • Compliments: Flatter your favorites with a list of custom compliments
  • Double Trouble: Find out which couple knows each other best with this customizable game
  • First Letter: Play a game of categories starting with a certain letter

Storyteller

  • Adventure: Write an adventure story where your child is the hero
  • Fairy Tale: Customize an interactive prince and princess-themed tale
  • Sci-Fi: Create an interactive story with a far-out theme
  • Fable: Create a short narrative with a moral of the story

Learning & Knowledge

  • Flash Cards: Study, test yourself, and master any subject by voice
  • Facts: Keep a list of facts on your favorite topic, all in one place
  • Quiz: Challenge yourself and others with a customizable quiz

Gadgets – TechCrunch Romain Dillet

Apple just released an iOS update for your iPhone and iPad. 11.3 introduces a ton of bug fixes but also a bunch of new features. If you forgot about Animjois, today is your lucky day as Apple is adding four new Animojis — a dragon, a bear, a lion and a skull.

But that’s not all. Apple already shared a preview of iOS 11.3 a couple of months ago. There’s a big ARKit update to ARKit 1.5. It can recognize more objects and surfaces.

And iOS 11.3 is also the battery update we’ve all been waiting for. There’s some new info in the settings about the status of your battery. It tells you the overall capacity and if it’s time to change your battery.

You can also choose to disable Apple’s controversial decision to throttle performance with old batteries. Apple says it’s a beta feature for now.

Apple is also introducing a new feature in the Health app. You can now centralize all your health records in the app. It’s only limited to a handful of clinics for now.

Apple is adding customer support conversations to Messages. You can initiate a conversation with a business to order something, book a table and more. Discover, Hilton, Lowe’s and Wells Fargo are already on board. Health Records and Business Chats are only available in the U.S. as a beta for now.

You’ll also see a new privacy icon across the operating system. A new website to export all your data is coming in May as well. Apple needs to add those features to comply with GDPR.

Finally, Apple Music is getting a new video clips section, the App Store Updates tab now shows you the size of each update and more tiny little things. And if you care about security, it’s always a good thing to update to the latest version of iOS. Unfortunately, iOS 11.3 still doesn’t include iMessage in iCloud.

Back up your iPhone or iPad to iCloud or your computer using iTunes before updating. You can then head over to the Settings app, then ‘General’, then ‘Software Update’. macOS, watchOS and tvOS updates are also available today.

Gadgets – TechCrunch Romain Dillet

Huawei just unveiled its brand new flagship phone — the P20. It’s a solid, well-designed Android phone with a shiny design, an iPhone X-like notch and some extravagant features, such as not one, not two but three cameras on the back of the P20 Pro.

I’ve played with the phone for a few minutes yesterday, and I would consider it one of the most polished Android phones out there. It’s a good successor to the P10, a good alternative to the Samsung Galaxy S9 and a good incarnation of Android.

The P20 and P20 Pro

Huawei is launching two different phones. The P20 is the most affordable version of the devices. It features a 5.8-inch LCD display with an 18.7:9 aspect ratio. In other words, the screen is more or less just like the one on the iPhone X.

The P20 Pro is slightly larger with a 6.1-inch display. And, for the first time in a Huawei phone, it has an OLED display. This feature alone makes the P20 Pro much nicer than the P20.

Phone manufacturers shouldn’t even try selling a phone with a notch combined with an LCD display. It just looks bad.

Both phones have a glass back and an aluminum frame, just like the Samsung Galaxy S9. It doesn’t feel as heavy as the iPhone X with its stainless steel frame, but it feels nice in your hand.

It’s a bit surprising that Huawei opted for a glass back even though the P20 and P20 Pro don’t feature wireless charging. Many manufacturers switched to glass cases to facilitate wireless charging. With those new devices, you get the fingerprints on the back of the device without any additional feature.

There are five colors for the P20 and four colors for the P20 Pro. In addition to standard colors (black, midnight blue for both devices, champagne gold for the P20), Huawei has created two gradient colors that look great — twilight and pink gold.

Another thing that differentiates the Huawei P20 from other Android phones, Huawei has kept the fingerprint sensor on the front, below the display. Many manufacturers have put the fingerprint sensor on the back, which works fine if you have the phone in your hand. But if the phone is on the table, you have to pick it up to unlock it — you don’t have this issue with the P20.

Throwing more cameras at the problem

But the real craziness is on the back of the device. The P20 Pro has three camera sensors because two cameras weren’t enough.

There’s a 40 megapixels lens combined with a 20 megapixels monochrome lens and an 8 megapixels telephoto lens. All of this should help you zoom further, take portait photos and take super slow-motion videos at 960 frames per second.

While that sounds like an overkill, Huawei thinks this is the best physical representation of its work when it comes to photography.

The company automatically detects objects and scenes to adjust the camera settings. The selfie camera automatically enhances your skin so that you feel comfortable sharing selfies with your friends. Long exposures are automatically stabilized for those long dark winter nights.

I could go on and on with Huawei’s special camera features, but it’s hard to judge if it’s actually useful without using the phone for a few days.

The P20 is a bit more reasonable as it only has two rear cameras.

Let’s go through some fine prints. Both devices are powered by an ARM-based Kirin 970 system-on-a-chip designed by Huawei. It runs Android 8.1 with Huawei’s EMUI custom skin.

It comes with 128GB of internal storage, no microSD slot, no headphone jack and a USB Type-C port. There will be dual SIM versions of both devices.

The company says that you can unlock the device with your face, but it’s nowhere near as good as Face ID. It takes a 2D photo of your face so you can easily bypass it with a photo.

Trying to be different

When you see the shiny P20, it has a distinctive look. That hasn’t always been the case with Huawei phones. The company has chosen to embrace the notch. It makes the P20 look much different from the notch-less Samsung Galaxy S9.

In many ways, the P20 isn’t groundbreaking. It’s a faster, more capable smartphone. But it’s hard to keep innovating after more than a decade of smartphones. So the P20 feels like a solid Android phone.

The only issue is that you won’t be able to buy the P20 in the U.S. That’s why Huawei introduced its smartphone in Paris with videos featuring Orange, Vodafone, Telefonica and Deutsche Telekom.

Gadgets – TechCrunch Romain Dillet

Huawei is about to unveil its brand new flagship smartphone — the P20. While many details have already leaked, this is going to be an interesting launch. The conference will begin at 3 PM in Paris, 9 AM in New York, 6 AM in San Francisco.

The company chose to unveil its new device at the magnificent Grand Palais in Paris. This is the first time Huawei chooses Paris to launch a major new device. Carriers and retailers in the U.S. have stopped selling Huawei devices. That might be the reason why the press conference is happening in Europe.

Huawei is now the second largest phone manufacturer in the world behind Samsung and just slightly above Apple. The P10 was a great device, so it’s clear that many Android fans will pay attention to today’s launch.

Gadgets – TechCrunch Romain Dillet

According to a new report from Bloomberg, Apple could be unveiling a new version of its entry-level iPad at its event next week. The company is holding a press event on March 27 in Chicago. And the only thing that we know is that the event is going to be focused on the education market.

Apple launched a cheap iPad in March 2017 without any press conference. This iPad looks like the iPad Air 2 with a 9.7-inch retina display and an A9 chip — the chip that first appeared in the iPhone 6S. More importantly, the entry-level iPad that is simply called “iPad” only costs $320 for the 32GB version.

And it sounds like Apple is ready to introduce an updated version of this iPad. Maybe you can expect a True Tone display and faster components for instance. Hardware is just one part as Bloomberg also says that there will be new iOS features for the classroom.

While the iPad seems to be a great device for the classroom, Google has convinced many schools with its Chromebooks. These laptops are cheap, secure and easy to maintain. You can currently buy Lenovo Chromebooks for $179 without taking into account educational discounts.

Even if Apple chooses to reduce its margins with its new entry-level iPad, this could be a smart bet. Tech companies rely more than ever on the ecosystem of services and devices that they created.

Chances are you’ll like Android phones and Google services if you’ve spent years using Google Docs and Gmail on a Chromebook. Students who use an iPad every day could then become loyal Apple customers in the future.

Rumor has it that Apple is also working on an updated MacBook Air with an affordable price. But Bloomberg thinks the new laptop won’t be ready in time for next week’s event.